Twin Shock Trials Iron

24 Feb

Yamaha XT 500With hailstones rattling off my window it reminds me of my time in the year round sport of motorcycle trials riding back in the eighties when New Year’s Day could involve competing in a snow storm during the annual trial up near Lochailort.

‘Competing’ might be too strong a word to use as I was a late-starter at trials riding – having gone off to seek my fortune in some of the world’s remoter parts at the end of the swinging sixties – only to return to Scotland a decade later to find the other man’s grass hadn’t neccesserally been greener.

But – the experience had stood me in good stead and I treated myself to the new Yamaha XT500 which on looks alone was a surefire winner.

Looks proved to be only skin deep. On the road she was good enough – till the needle crept round to seventy-ish. Then the wind would get under that motocross style front mudguard and maintaining a straight line could prove difficult.

Sometime in the early eighties the XT and I followed parts of the Scottish Six Days Trial running out of Fort William. I managed to keep out of everyone’s way and all went well till I decided to risk a remote mountain route across the bogs and heather climbing out of Glen Clunie. The XT500 is no trials bike and when the degree of difficulty became too much the sensible option was return the way I came – back out to the road.

I had reckoned without Rab P who was closing the course as last rider that year. Boy diid he tear me off a strip for going against the traffic as he put it – even though the traffic had well and truly gone by the time I came along.

I took his bollocking to heart! So much so that it wasn’t long before the pretty XT500 was sold to a guy from Edinburgh and a new Bultaco 325 Sherpa trials bike took it’s place —


The trials bug had well and truly bit! Most Sundays and at times full weekends were spent competing in various wild places in Scotland and the north of England as I enjoyed the challenge of riding the rough stuff without stopping or dabbing a foot down.

The Bultaco was the ideal tool for this novice. Powerful but not flighty – she would trundle through the tricky observed sections and answer the call of the throttle when needed.

Well that’s how it all started – till – one day I drowned her in a deep rock pool in a river out on the moors. I gave her the prescribed treatment of removing the plug and pumping the kickstart to fire the water out of the cylinder and stood her up on the back wheel to drain the water from the exhaust.

She fired up ok – but – something was missing. At the end of the trial off she went to the expert for an engine strip and rebuild.

Typical action shot of the then European Champion – Martin Lamkin on His Bultaco Sherpa – copyright unknown —

Martin Lampkin

Next trial was in Glen Ogle just north of Lochearnhead. All went well till I forded a deepish river crossing. We trickled across but when I reached the high bank on the far side I opened the throttle to lift the front wheel out of the water onto the heather. She didn’t answer the throttle. The front wheel hit the bank – the motor reversed rotation and she took me – feet up – backwards into the deepest part of the river!

It was a strange sensation I can tell you. After that episode she became a conundrum. At times I would park her up outside an observed section – walk the course to check out the obstacles then take my place at the head of the queue – kick her up – select a gear – let the clutch out and sometimes she would take me backwards into the line of waiting riders! There was no telling what mood she was in – possibly why I call all my bikes female.

Ok – I know now it was probably a relatively easy fix. My engine builder had no doubt set the ignition timing too close to top dead centre with the result that the motor occasionaly decided to run backwards. It was all the excuse I needed to go ‘green’.

And how can you blame me – when I saw this lovely green Mick Andrews designed Ossa 250 with gold wheels at the McLellan Galleries bike show in Glasgow I was smitten —

green ossa 250 trials

She was no hardy 325 Bultaco – in fact I was soon to discover she couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding. Even a trip back to the supplier in Ayrshire didn’t help. A chance meeting with Kieth Horseman at the Scottish Six Days came up with the answer – a reed valve conversion would do the trick.

Off she went in the pickup with Kieth – Martin Lampkin and Rob Shephard with Mart’s works Bultaco and Rob’s works four stroke Honda to Kieth’s converted old mill workshop down in Skipton for the treatment. Yorkshire was the centre of the trials world at that time and Kieth knew what he was doing.

Rob Shepherd on his 360 Honda – copyright Honda Trials History and an old aquaintance of mine – Jimmy Young —

Rob Shepherd 360 Honda copyright Jimmy Young

She was a different bike when I fetched her back – pulled like a train – no fluffing or farting – a joy to ride. Just as well cos on a long long downslope part of the snotty mountain crossing from Loch Lomond to Loch Fyne on the second day of the Loch Lomond club’s annual Two Day trial I inadvertently dropped her on her side and we tobogganed down the hillside together.

Rob Shepherd – Honda 360 – copyright Marvyn Smith & Honda Trials History —

Sheperd-Marvin Smith & Honda Trials History

When I picked her up and looked her over she appeared to be all of a piece and it wasn’t till we took off again down that steep hillside downslope that I found I would have to do the rest at a rate of knots! She was stuck in top gear having bent the selector forks when the lever hit a rock or tussock during our fall.

No worries – the now powerful motor pulled me off that hillside and all the way back to the Start/Finish area in Balloch even if it did mean a highspeed excursion through the no-go guarded area which held the fuel for the Nuclear Submarine depot at Faslane. It certainly said a lot for the Ossa clutch which came in for dog’s abuse.

Lots of fun with the Ossa but that brush with Rob Shepherd’s fourstroke Honda must have touched a chord —

Honda RTL 200

OK – that is no works 360 Honda that only an ace like Rob Shepherd could ride. She is the new – cooking TLR 200 for the masses. A nice little bike – she could do everything right and get me through the section – almost! Right at the end when I needed that little bit of oomph to lift the front wheel out past the Observer she would cough and die leaving me red faced in embarrassment.

This is the only photo I have of that little bike. For a change we are coming ‘feet up’ out of a long steep section in a trial north of Stonehaven —

trials too 001

Boy do I look determined – I must have known the camera was waiting at the top.That little TRL 200 wasn’t available in the UK and I actually brought mine in from Belgium.

What was available over here was the Seeley Honda and for my sins I had one of those as well —


A nice bike – we had a lot of fun together – including a trip down to the Black Forest area in southern Germany for an International Trial. The hospitality which involved loads of beer and a large glass boot was good when signing in at the Rifle Club the night before. Too good in fact and I rode the whole of the One Day event with humungous hangover which did nothing for my final score.

Four Seasons 005

After the trial I was treated to my first ever flight in a glider. Terrified doesn’t begin to describe my feelings! Mostly down to the pilot who looked to be about twelve years old! It wasn’t till we landed that I was told he was the German under 18 Champion so I had been in safer hands than I thought.

There was another bike in the family around this time – a TY80 which my young son could put through it’s paces —

tree huggers 003

As he outgrew the TY a 125 Fantic similar to this 200 version came on the scene —


It had been fun playing in the mud during the eighties but by the start of my ‘numpty nineties’ I had gone road racing – and that is another story 🙂


Thanks to all the photographers who provided pics on line. I have attributed copyright where I can.


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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Uncategorized



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